Hamas fires 275 rockets at Israel and is rewarded with de facto acceptance as a legitimate negotiating partner in the Middle East peace process, as well as with a relaxation of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza coast. Israel is prevented from exacting a price for Hamas’ actions sufficient to deter future attacks or degrade Hamas’ capabilities. In one stroke, the Obama administration has overturned thirty years of American policy, which rejected negotiations with Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Secretary of State Clinton, to be sure, did not negotiate directly with Hamas, but rather with Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, who supported Hamas unequivocally and encouraged its attacks on Israel. Morsi is the leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian chapter. It is astonishing that American officials and the world media have hailed Morsi simply because he first sicced his dog on his neighbor, and then called the dog off.
As the Associated Press put it:
“The accord inserts Egypt to an unprecedented degree into the conflict between Israel and Hamas, establishing it as the arbiter ensuring that militant rocket fire into Israel stops and that Israel allows the opening of the long-blockaded Gaza Strip and stops its own attacks against Hamas. In return, Morsi emerged as a major regional player. He won the trust of the United States and Israel, which once worried over the rise of an Islamist leader in Egypt but throughout the week-long Gaza crisis saw him as the figure most able to deliver a deal with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.”
It is a misstatement of huge proportions to suggest that Morsi “won the trust of Israel.” On the contrary: American pressure prevented Israel from degrading Hamas’ terror capabilities.
When Hamas cranked up its rocket barrage against Israel ten days ago, numerous analysts asked: Why now? In retrospect, the answer appears obvious: Because Barack Obama had been re-elected and had a free hand. From February 2011, when National Intelligence Director James Clapper praised the Muslim Brotherhood as a “largely secular” organization, the White House has made clear that it believes that the Brotherhood represents the wave of the future in the Middle East. American backing for Morsi was nearly derailed in September when the Egyptian president failed to provide security for America’s embassy in Cairo during riots that followed the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. That affront has been forgotten amidst the accolades.
America’s traditional allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States (notably excepting Qatar) viewed Morsi as an enemy. Almost out of cash and suffering from extreme shortages of fuel and other essential items, Morsi failed to obtain financial support from the Saudis. With a current account deficit of perhaps $1.5 billion a month, Egypt was running on fumes and small handouts from Qatar and Turkey. A number of American commentators suggested that Morsi was motivated to act moderately because he needed Saudi and American help to prevent economic catastrophe. Precisely the opposite is true: the only way Morsi could shake down the Saudis for significant sums was to threaten a regional blowup.
Morsi read the American political landscape accurately. He perceived that the White House was so deeply invested in the success of the Muslim Brotherhood that it would respond to a crisis provoked by Hamas by splitting the result down the middle, giving Hamas sufficient concessions to allow the terrorist group to declare victory. He also understood the implications of Mitt Romney’s supine performance during the third presidential debate on foreign policy. The Republican party continues to drag around the chains of the Bush foreign policy like Marley’s ghost, and will offer no opposition to Obama. Influential Republicans, moreover, are so invested in the notion of Islamist democracy that many of them will go along with Obama in supporting Morsi’s protection racket. Bill Kristol, for example, opined in the Weekly Standard’s weekly podcast that Morsi has “behaved somewhat responsibly” and that the ceasefire, although it might last only a few months, was “better than nothing.”
Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Tayyip Erdogan had another motive for backing Hamas. Turkey views the prospect of Syrian disintegration and the spinoff of an autonomous zone for Syria’s two million Kurds as an existential threat. At current trends, half of Turkey’s military-age population will come from Kudrish-speaking households within a generation, and a Syrian precedent for Kurdish autonomy threatens the integrity of the Kurdish state. Erdogan is counting on the Muslim Brotherhood to rule a unified Sunni government in Syria, and has allied with Morsi to bring this into effect. Turkey’s weakness gives Morsi additional bargaining power.
Presuming that Morsi’s ceasefire holds, the absence of rocket fire from Gaza during the next several months holds little comfort for Israel. Hamas will have more opportunity to stockpile the longer-range Iranian Fajr rockets that struck near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week. Iran has boasted that it has transferred the technology to Hamas to quickly produce the rockets in Gaza. Whenever the ceasefire breaks down, Hamas will have far greater capacity to kill Israelis in the future. If Israel were to strike Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the price it would pay in rocket attacks from Hamas as well as Hezbollah in the north would be substantially greater than it is now.
Israel suffered a setback, but not a decisive setback, because the whole Gaza business is tangential to the overriding strategic issue, namely Iran’s prospective acquisition of nuclear weapons. Were Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capacity, it will pay a higher price for doing so in terms of civilian casualties. That is a human tragedy but not a strategic disadvantage. Hamas does not represent a strategic threat to Israel, and the degraded and demoralized Egyptian military represents less of a threat to Israel than at any time since its founding, while Syria represents no threat at all. The unexpectedly strong performance of Israel’s anti-missile technology, meanwhile, represents a new and critical strategic advantage for Israel. Egypt’s Morsi may obtain a respite, but Egypt will continue to live under the threat of economic breakdown for the indefinite future. The Muslim Brotherhood will fail to stabilize Syria.
Nothing that happens in Gaza will decide the future of the region. Israel still must decide whether to attack Iran’s nuclear program in the face of adamant opposition from the Obama administration. It is not clear how long the window of opportunity will last for Israel to pre-empt Iranian nuclear weapons deployment, but it is measured in months, not years.
David P. Goldman is a PJMedia columnist and the author of How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too).